By Associated Press
A New Jersey businessman who admitted making illegal campaign contributions has told federal investigators that he gave money and gifts to a U.S. diplomat for help in recovering $71 million owed him by North Korea, according to a published report.
It is unclear if the now-retired diplomat, C. Kenneth Quinones, did anything to help David Chang in return for the gifts, which included a new 1994 Acura Legend car for his wife and $50,000 for one daughters college tuition in 1995, said the report published on Jan. 19 in The New York Times.
Federal agents searched the Virginia home of Quinones on Jan. 6 seeking records that would verify Changs claims, The Times said, citing two unnamed people familiar with the case.
Quinones lawyer, Peter H. White, denied any wrongdoing by his client, the newspaper said.
Chang, 57, a Bergen County-based commodities broker, has been cooperating with investigators since he admitted in June that he funneled $53,700 in illegal contributions to the 1996 campaign of Sen. Robert Torricelli, a New Jersey Democrat.
Six others have pleaded guilty in connection with fundraising abuses during Torricellis successful Senate campaign in 1996, when he was a congressman representing Bergen County. Torricelli has said he was unaware of the wrongdoing.
Quinones, 57, was the State Department desk officer for North Korea in the mid-1990s. He was assigned to the Defense Department in 1996, and retired in 1998, The Times said.
During the decade, Quinones, who speaks Korean, visited the communist state and assisted missions to recover the bodies of American soldiers from the Korean War, the Defense Department said.
A New Jersey-based Chang company, Bright & Bright, won a contract worth nearly $1 million to supply the missions with vehicles and equipment, the newspaper said.
Chang told investigators he met Quinones around 1991, the year Chang won a special license to trade with North Korea, which was then under trade sanctions, The Times said.
Chang brokered grain shipments, and began contacting officials in Washington around 1994 for assistance in getting money he said the North Koreans owed. About that time, he bought the car for Mrs. Quinones, The Times said.
In addition to providing one Quinones daughter with tuition, Chang placed another daughter in a job at a hotel in northern New Jersey, Chang told investigators, according to the newspaper.
Federal officials cannot take gifts from people doing business with their agencies, or from someone whose interests could be substantially affected by the official, under government regulations.
Such misconduct, however, only rises to the level of a crime if the gift was given as a reward for an action, or to induce an official to do something.
A State Department official on Jan. 19 said it has been in contact with Bright & Bright, along with other companies, regarding claims against North Korea.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, referred further inquiries regarding Chang and Quinones to the Justice Department. Messages left for a Justice Department spokesman and the head of its Campaign Financing Task Force, which prosecuted Chang, did not return calls seeking comment last week.
Chang lawyer Bradley D. Simon declined to comment.
Chang pursued other avenues in an attempt to collect his debt, including asking Torricelli for help. Torricelli has said his staff contacted the Clinton administration about the debt, but that the government was unable to help Chang.
In pleading guilty to making $53,700 in illegal donations, Chang admitted he tried to evade contribution limits and by secretly repaying straw donors those he and others induced to write checks to Torricellis campaign.
Chang also made legal donations. He was listed by Mother Jones magazine as one of the top 400 donors in the United States during the 1997-98 election cycle with contributions of $41,586. In 1998 and 1999, Chang made soft-money contributions ranging from $30,000 to $100,000 to the Democratic Party during three White House visits.